2022 NFC North Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Benjamin Haller breaks down the NFC North from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 18.3 27th
Offensive Snaps 1047 14th
2021 Record 6-11 27th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 6.5

 

Another year of misery in Chicago resulted in a long-overdue clearing of the brass for the hapless Bears – a 6-11 record was not good enough to save GM Ryan Pace and embattled Head Coach Matt Nagy, who were both dismissed after the season along with their entire coaching staff. Their record in the NFC North was dismal, beating the dreadful Lions twice but being far outmatched by both the Packers and the Vikings, who scored 21 points in the final quarter of the season to hammer the nail in the coffin for Pace and Nagy.

The only bright spot was the emergence of Justin Fields as the true starter and he showed flashes of play that points towards a brighter future at the position. After the failures of Mitch Trubisky and Andy Dalton, there was finally quarterback play worth watching at Soldier Field. New Head Coach Matt Eberflus is hoping former Packers Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy can mold Fields into a franchise quarterback, but it will be far from easy.

Former Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles, who failed to make the NFL with the Bears as an offensive lineman in 2008, gets a chance to overhaul a roster that has been swimming in mediocrity for years now. He immediately made an impact by trading Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a couple of picks, a clear intention that this will be a long-term project. A flurry of veterans departed in free agency or via outright release, including Danny Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, and Tarik Cohen. The worrying development in training camp is the trade request put forward by star linebacker Roquan Smith, who feels disrespected by the recent contract extension offer, saying “I don’t see a path back to the organization I truly love.” Yikes!

The draft prioritized key positions on the defense, with both second-round picks, corner Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker, addressing needs in the secondary. The Bears didn’t have a first-round selection and third-round wideout Velus Jones Jr could start in what looks on paper an underwhelming receiver room. A host of cheap, short-term free-agent deals for veterans like Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St Brown, and David Moore amongst others are in the hope that one works out.

Bears fans will need patience.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 188.6 30th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 0.94 29th
Pass Attempts per Game 31.8 23rd

 

The Andy Dalton experiment of 2021, always doomed to fail, failed spectacularly and it was almost like the coaching staff was surprised. A porous offensive line contributed significantly, as Justin Fields also found out once he took over the starting role. The Bears allowed a league-high 58 sacks and at times it was like watching a circus act as Fields tried to make a miraculous escape from oncoming pass rushers. Lucas Patrick has come over from Green Bay to act as the center, but with fifth-round rookie left tackle Brexton Jones slated to start, and cringe-worthy names like Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield primed for major roles, it is not clear whether this will be better.

When the Bears actually got to throw the ball it was hard to determine just how far along Fields had come. There is work to be done here for sure and a limited skillset amongst the receiving corps will not help much. There is potential for Fields to be allowed to tuck a run more often and this should at least prevent the sack numbers from reaching levels like last year. Getsy will also bring in a scheme to get the ball out quicker, potentially utilizing more two-TE sets and involving Darnell Mooney all across the formation. Mooney is the fantasy diamond in the rough here and is promised to deliver on fantasy value. Cole Kmet, held without a touchdown last season, has much to prove but he is technically number two in the hunt for targets and that is the best fantasy managers can hope for.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 118.7 14th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 0.82 18th
Rushing Plays per Game 27.9 11th

 

Getsy does at least inherit a competent running game with the potential for pop. David Montgomery has established himself as a go-to, every-down back if the need arises. His third-straight season of over 1,000 scrimmage yards kept the Bears attack in games for long periods last year and his role will only increase as Getsy looks to protect his young quarterback and find more creative ways to move the ball. The emergence of Khalil Herbert as an explosive option was a bonus – he averaged nearly 5 yards per carry across a four-game stretch when Montgomery was out. He could be a solid FLEX option for fantasy managers once we know a little more about how the distribution will be shared. Herbert wasn’t really utilized effectively outside of those starts so a specific role is yet to be decided. Darrynton Evans was claimed off waivers from the Titans, so there’s also that.

 

Gotta Have Him

 

David Montgomery, RB

The former Iowa State back is entering his fourth year in the NFL and so far the results have been just above average. It’s a huge year for the player in what he is hoping is a feature role with plenty of time on the field. Montgomery will handle goal-line duties and if the new offensive scheme is akin to what the offensive coordinator used in Green Bay with Aaron Jones, Monty could be in for a huge year. He is the safest fantasy floor out of all the offensive staff.

 

Sleeper

 

Justin Fields, QB

The sky is the limit for the former Ohio State quarterback, whose second year in the league will certainly be more stable and instructive under the new coaching unit. Fields could be a weapon both in the air and on the ground as his supporting cast cannot be relied upon when the game is on the line. Look for him to notch up more yards in designed plays and also be a factor with his legs at the goal line. A simple 5-10% improvement in completion rate would yield a healthy return. Believe Bears fans, believe.

 

Rookie To Watch

 

Velus Jones Jr. WR

The wideout from Tennessee was considered by most as later round pick but the Bears saw enough to jump on him in the third round. Jones Jr was a transfer to Tennessee from USC and so his growth is still very much in progress. He could be primarily used in the slot and this bodes well for fantasy production. He could also be used in a gadget role out of the backfield. After sharing SEC Special Teams Player of the Year honors with Alabama receiver Jameson Williams as a return specialist in 2020, Jones Jr could be on the field a lot and work his way into an impact role.

 

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Ian Johnson, Robin Alam, Larry Radloff & Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire

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